Out and About (Sort of): Pause Before Raising Wages by Howard Freedlander

As the Maryland General Assembly addresses legislation proposing a hike in the current minimum wage of $10.10 to $15 an hour, I recommend caution as well as compassion. Like most things in the political arena, a decision aimed at boosting take-home pay and relieving poverty is not simple or straightforward.

Since I wrote last week that I planned to devote this week’s column to examination and analysis of the minimum wage by this non-economist, I’ve read extensive emails sent me by a friend and economist and spoken with business and non-profit executives. A housing specialist also offered input.

I am torn.

Every working person should make enough money to live not impoverished, able to pay expenses. Everyone should feel compensated fairly and valued. Everyone should feel proud of one’s output, unburdened by a supervisor’s unrealistic expectations.

Employers, particularly those who own small businesses or manage social-service non-profits, face a quandary when state government decides to raise the minimum wage. Eager to pay their employees a fair wage, they now may face a mandate. They also must confront simple economics: can they afford to employ as many people at a higher hourly rate and make a desired profit or continue providing services?

If the answer is no, then employers must lay off employees. They may have no other alternative. The result is undesirable: former workers either must find another job or seek unemployment insurance.

Employers might cut benefits. That too is hurtful.

Nonprofits providing necessary services to poor individuals are in a squeeze when compelled to pay higher wages. The needy clients cannot pay higher fees, prompted by higher-paid service-providers.

Having spent considerable time in Annapolis, I well realize that opponents of bills such as ones dealing with mandated minimum wages or benefits always claim that the world will fall apart should legislation viewed as onerous be approved and signed by the governor. I also know that these cries of alarm are sometimes rhetorical devices.

This time around, I suggest that minimum-wage opponents receive a fair hearing. Their voices need to be heard and regarded. Further, I suggest that if the General Assembly find the politics irresistible to increase the minimum wage from $10.10 to $15, it do so in phases.

Private and non-profit sectors need time to adjust to a new wage reality.

And one more thing: I believe that the minimum wage be set differently for, say Baltimore County, than it is for, say, Dorchester County. This is reasonable. The cost of living differs. The volume of business and ability to pay employees is markedly different in Towson than it is in Cambridge.

Leaders of Maryland counties must have a respected voice. Decentralized decision-making may be unreasonable; input, though, is vital.

An unavoidable consequence of raising the minimum wage in a small business typically calls for hiking the hourly rates of those folks earning greater than the existing minimum wage. This is just a reality. Personnel expenses thus continue to rise for a small business owner.

Complexity underscores the minimum wage debate. It’s just so tempting to raise pay and enable people and their families to live more comfortably. To argue otherwise seems so heartless. It seems the right thing to do in a churning economy.

I ask Senate President Mike Miller and Speaker of the House Mike Busch to consider the inevitable byproducts of a compassionate and politically pleasing legislative initiative. I wish I could jump on the bandwagon without any reservation.

I would like to be led by my heart. It’s just not rational.

Before I bring this column to a merciful close, I believe that raising the minimum wage should not be a stand-alone action. The legislature should combine an increase with additional incentives to build affordable and safe housing and provide job training and affordable day care. It simply makes sense if the state wishes to upgrade the income and output of workers in a holistic way.

At the risk of being redundant, I urge readers to pay heed to the Maryland General Assembly. What it does matters.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

The Power of Love by Jamie Kirkpatrick

My wife is one of nine children. Last week, her mother, the tour de force we all called “Dar,” passed away peacefully at 94. It was not unexpected but still a shock. We all thought she would live forever.

One of my favorite John Cheever stories is the tale of The Worm in the Apple. It’s about a family (the Crutchmans) who are all so outwardly happy and loving that the narrator assumes there must be a worm hiding in their apple. He searches through all the nooks and crannies of their lives, lifts every little tea doily looking for the telltale dust bunny that would prove that not all was as spotless as it seemed, but try as he might, he isn’t able to find the worm in their apple. Along the way, however, he does uncover some sad chapters in the Crutchman’s otherwise merry saga but in every instance, the family is able to swallow each bitter pill like an elixir that only makes them stronger. They cross every bridge in their lives with truthfulness and grace and in the end, the narrator is forced to grudgingly admit that there really is no worm in the Crutchman’s apple.

Well, the fictional Crutchmans have a lot in common with the real-life Conleys and Dar was their indisputable and vital matriarch. Her original nine children produced twelve grandchildren and that generation swelled the family with eighteen great grandchildren. If you add the spouses to the mix—I currently count fifteen “outlaws”—that brings the total number of diners at the family table to fifty-three. (If you’re checking my math—and you should!—one of the original nine offspring passed away in 2015.) And now the place at the head of the table is empty.

Dar was twice married. Her first marriage lasted thirty years and produced those original nine children. Her second marriage lasted twenty years and gave all her grandchildren and great grandchildren someone to hold dear and remember as a grandfather.

Dar was elegant, entertaining, and energetic, traits she passed down the family tree. With such a titanic and lively crew to manage, she also needed to be both a boss and a drill sergeant, more DNA she contributed to the family gene pool. She was a devout Catholic with a sustaining faith that contained a firm moral center but she was also able to find enough latitude and flexibility in her belief to accommodate the changing times. She was also a devout Republican (a bit less so of late!) but thankfully broadminded enough to tolerate a modicum of Democrat dissent from a few of us. She loved all the family shenanigans and chaos and insisted on a dance-or-go-to-bed philosophy that still permeates every family gathering; I can testify to its power because the Conleys have kept me up way past my bedtime on many an occasion.

Which brings up an interesting dichotomy within the family circle. I’ve come to understand that the Conleys and their offspring need each other like yin needs yang; without one, the other would be incomplete. Together, the Conleys make a whole that is far greater than the sum of their individual parts. At the same time, they are inclusive to a fault even though at times the family circus can become a bit overwhelming to the uninitiated. I’m speaking from my outlaw perspective when I confess this, but I admit that as the years pass, what seemed absolutely loco at first now seems almost—almost!—normal. When it gets too crazy, I just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.

Dar fell and fractured her hip last Sunday. Knowing the risk involved, she underwent surgery to repair the break and the next day, when she asked her physical therapist if she would still be able to do her Michael Jackson moonwalk, we dared to hope. But broken bones and major surgery took their toll on her frail ninety-four year-old body and she took her last breath later that afternoon. Dar left this world the same way she inhabited it: beautifully, gracefully.

Dar was a shining star to her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. Everyone adored her. She was our mentor, model, and guide—a gifted natural teacher who taught all of us—inlaws and outlaws both—a million different life lessons. The most powerful one she taught me was the power of love.

Now she can dance until dawn if she wants to; she never, ever has to go to bed.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer with homes in Chestertown and Bethesda. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy magazine. “A Place to Stand,” a book of photographs and essays about Landon School, was published by the Chester River Press in 2015.  A collection of his essays titled “Musing Right Along” was published in May 2017; a second volume of Musings entitled “I’ll Be Right Back” will be released in June 2018.  Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.com

Goose Tales by George Merrill

Geese, like many boaters and tourists who show up on the Shore, are seasonal visitors. The arrival of geese in the fall is like the invasion of college kids on Maryland beaches during spring break; they’re everywhere. Geese gather in droves in the creeks, golf courses, and weekenders’ lawns, huddling feather to feather. They stay for the winters and then leave.

Whether arriving, taking off, or just floating around, geese make an extraordinary ruckus. One night in the fall some years ago, while anchored on the Wye River near Shaw Bay, a huge colony of geese settled in the water near us. I was unable to hear what my wife was saying across the cockpit for the din that the geese were making. Geese generate a thunderous volume because they all talk at once the way anxious people do. Why so much to say I have no idea, unless, perhaps, as frequent fliers, they’re relieved to be settled in and enjoy telling each other stories of where they’ve been, the ups and downs of their flight south and who they’d bumped into along the way. I heard a lot of stories that night, and although I couldn’t understand a word – a honk, more accurately – I didn’t sleep a wink for the din.

Once, in late spring, I woke in the middle of the night to the honking of a solitary goose in the creek in front of my house. I’m used to sounds that gaggles of geese make. It’s odd hearing only one. I felt melancholy listening to the goose. I couldn’t get back to sleep, but not because of the noise–the honking wasn’t intrusive– but for the suggestion of what this plaintive voice might portend.

In spring, I’m expecting nature’s new arrivals. This goose must have been around the Bay since the fall, anyway. I doubt it was a recent arrival. To hear the honking of only one goose when I know that he or she, only a month ago, was surrounded by the convivial chatter of friends and relatives, inclines me to think the worst: perhaps its spouse died or for health reasons the goose wasn’t up to making the long trip north. For this goose, spring was not a beginning, but an end.

There are gains and losses in the seasons of life. I think of the retirees who come to the Shore to live out their days in the gentle ambience of tidewater country. In my community, most of the people are of riper years, most over fifty-five.   The days of contentment endure for a while but then there’s the inevitable time of illness and death. One survives to live out by themselves the dream they once shared together.

Not far from my home just off the Bozman-Neavitt Road, a couple I knew once named their home, Final Decision. The name was inscribed on a plaque attached to a covered well housing that stood by the road. The home is still there, the well housing too, but the name has disappeared.

Final Decision was a word play on the husband’s profession – he had been a judge – and that this was the last move the couple planned to make. In short, like many here, they came to live out their lives on the Shore. The husband died and the wife stayed on in the house.  After some years she became disabled with age and her family saw the necessity of moving her to a facility providing regular care. After she left, the sign began losing letters, falling off one by one, until, when I last saw the sign, the remaining letters read, ‘indecision.’  Life decisions we make are rarely final; they’re tentative. The final decision is made elsewhere.

I considered another possible scenario to account for the solitary bird’s presence. Indeed, like Henry David Thoreau, the goose may have been making a statement. He’d had it with the noise, the crowded skies, congestion on the creeks, geese everywhere flapping and fussing, and spending long hours in the air. Like Thoreau, the goose found his own Walden Pond, on the creek in front of my house.

For man and goose, alike, there are tradeoffs to be managed. While it’s comforting knowing someone’s nearby it’s also important to have time and space to be still and alone. To be assured of the comforts and safety that companionship and society provide, most species congregate together in one way or another. For our part, we build and inhabit homes around the tranquil coves we love, sail the open waters that beckon us, and drop our hooks in the silent creeks and rivers that promise us a night’s safe anchorage. But we also insist upon having conveniences nearby like shopping malls with big boxes We profane the very pristine nest we sought for refuge, the place where we sought gentle space, where we could engage in the discernment that solitude brings, and where that soft, downy texture of stillness can be heard, the stillness that cradles the soul like soft pillows sooth sleepy heads.

After a month or so I never saw the goose again. Who knows where he’d gone. But I like to think that he went on searching for that perfect time which includes discovering the uncommon place for which many of us longed and found a while we lived on the Shore.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

 

Trump’s Wall Hits a Wall by Steve Parks

When asked what I miss most following my retirement two years ago, I’m reminded that in my two decades as a New York theater critic and arts writer my tickets to shows I reviewed displayed the cost to me: $0.00. That usually gets a laugh from whomever poses the question. But there’s nothing funny about furloughed federal government workers who, starting last week, received pay stubs bearing their value: $0.00.

To what end? The president insists there’s a security crisis at our southern border and that the only remedy is to build Wall from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific. The $5.7 billion for said Wall over which he has shut down much of the government would cover only 200 miles, if that. There are already 700 miles of barriers in strategic places along the border with Mexico, which would leave another 1,000 Wall miles to build. To figure the total cost you might suppose that quintupling would cover it–$25 billion and change. You would be incalculably wrong. The Wall will never be completed in Trump’s lifetime or anyone else’s. Just as we all should have known that Mexico was never going to pay for it. Forget that the president now insists he never said that. Who does he think he’s fooling? There are hundreds, at least, of videos proving what he promised time after time, often leading call-and-responses: “What are we going to build?” “The Wall!” “And who’s going to pay for it?” “Mexico!”

Don’t tell me the president doesn’t lie. “I never said Mexico was going to write a check for the Wall,” he said along the Texas border recently. He wants us to believe he was speaking metaphorically. But read any of his endless streams of mostly mindless Tweets and you’ll see that the president wouldn’t know a metaphor from a meatball.

But what matters right now is all the suffering he’s causing for a stupidly impossible vanity project. A week before Christmas, Trump was ready to sign off on a compromise that would leave the government open. All departments would be funded except the Department of Homeland Security, which would stay open with a continuing resolution until a compromise could be reached on border security, with $1.3 billion already on the table for Trump’s Wall. The compromise now sits on Senate Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk. All he has to do is put it up for a vote. It would pass, perhaps by a veto-proof margin.

But Trump spends much of his “executive time” watching cable news. (If you doubt it, just look at the timing of his Tweets.) Right-wing commentators such as Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter derided him as a fake president should he back down from his central campaign pledge. Forget Mexico paying for it. Just build Wall anyway and let middle-class American chumps pick up the tab. The word “fake” must have riled Trump, who’s always throwing it around regarding news dispensed outside of Sean Hannity’s Fox orbit.

Trump shut down the government over comments delivered by a blowhard former prescription drug addict and a wicked-tongued woman who once said of 9/11 widows who questioned George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion that they “reveled” in their husbands’ deaths. These are Trump’s “advisers” now that he’s chased away most of those who have some clue of which they speak.

All of this to build a Wall that can never be realized and would be ineffectual anyway. When Trump visited the border, he was shown pictures of tunnels dug beneath portions of walls, fences or other barriers. And he was asked about photos showing a steel-slat barrier, which he’s favored lately, that had been sliced through using a hacksaw you could buy at Lowe’s or Home Depot. His response? “That wall was built by previous administrations” (translate Obama), ignoring the lineup of other prototypes ordered by Trump clearly visible in the background. He further lies that 4,000 terrorists crossed the southern border in the last year and dispatched his vice president, secretary of homeland security and hapless press secretary to repeat his lie. The figure from the latest year available, 2017-18, from the president’s own Department of Homeland Security, is 6. And these were only suspects, such as people who bore similar names to known terrorists. Other numbers show that illegal immigration at our southern border are lowest they’ve been in this century.

There is a crisis at the border, a humanitarian one as Trump mentioned in his Oval Office address. But the crisis is of his making, starting with separating children, even preverbal babies, from their parents. Many parents who’ve not already been deported are held in internment camps while their children are detained separately in other obscenely for-profit facilities. And we’re all paying for it. Not Mexico.

Trump’s Wall will never be built no matter how loudly he huffs and puffs. Most of the land along the Rio Grande as well as parts of the desert west of Texas is privately owned. The president has threatened to divert FEMA funds meant to help American citizens devastated by wildfires and hurricanes and also the Defense Department budget to pay for Wall. But that’s only part of the bill. To build his Wall, the president has proposed declaring “military eminent domain.” That sounds like martial law—using force to take private land from ranch owners and others. Still, they would have to be compensated at whatever is deemed “fair market value.” One ranch owner said he wouldn’t sell “if they offered me a trillion dollars.” Eminent domain, even with a military threat—does the president propose arresting anyone who doesn’t take his offer?—means litigation. A massive government takeover of thousands of square miles of private land would occupy courts along the southern border for decades at an astronomical cost unimaginable even to Trump.

The best outcome I can foresee is that the president goes through with his threat to declare a national emergency and the courts give him even a partial go-ahead. Before an ounce of concrete is poured after all the court challenges, Trump will be out of office. We’d be left with a precedent for the next president to use for a global emergency—climate change. Maybe we’ll still have time to save the lowlands and islands of our Chesapeake region from being swallowed up by rising sea levels.

May that be your ironic legacy, Mr. President.

Steve Parks is a retired journalist now living in Easton.

  

   

Up River by Craig Fuller

Ever wonder what boating enthusiasts do when there is snow on the ground? Well, we plan future cruises. And, while getting “there” is always at least half the fun, another goodly percentage goes to the time spent planning.

With this in mind, I recently found myself among some seasoned cruisers who gathered in the middle of winter to discuss where it might be fun cruise this coming boating season. We talked of boats and cruises past and some new, or newly redone, places we want to visit.

Chestertown Marina

Emerging from the intense review of options, I decided that the Ranger Tug and I needed to head up the Chester River to historic Chestertown this year and visit what I knew to be a 300-year-old working port. My focus was such that I decided a drive north to see the new Chestertown Marina would be a strong element in my own cruise planning process.

While I knew the Town was refurbishing the marina, what I discovered was a virtually new and beautiful facility. The transformation since my last visit over a year ago was beyond anything I could have imagined.

Now, any good plan requires some knowledge of the backstory. And, who better to learn from than the mayor of Chestertown, his honor, Chris Cerino, who responded to an email by saying, “just give me a call anytime!”

While the commitment to rebuild the marina was launched before Mayor Cerino took office, this is one elected official who made a promise to see the marina totally redone and it is clearly a promise kept! Having taken office in 2014, he shared with me that “there is not a single square-yard we left untouched.” And, to think that back in 2011 people actually planned to sell the marina to build condos!

It took a good deal of financial finesse along the way. No single grant could fund the project, but a series of grants were applied for that made the initial work possible. Then, to the credit of the community, private donors stepped up to raise money needed to complete the project thanks to their funds and matching monies. By the way, a little help is still needed. [Link: http://chestertownmarina.com/marina-fundraising/ ]

One look at the new marina tells anyone that the good people have Chestertown have given all who enjoy cruising a fine new destination. And, as the mayor happily points out, “a beautiful historic town is a short walk away for all who visit.” There is no doubt that the mayor, along with the local shops and restaurants, welcome visitors.

Surely a number of slips will be leased for the season, but groups of up to 15 or 20 boats should be able to be accommodated, at least this year. And, there is a commitment to work with any captain who wants to spend some time in Chestertown.

So, a bit of snow on the ground will not prevent those who enjoy boating from getting excited about that next cruise….even if it is still several weeks away.

For more information on the Chestertown Marina please go here

Craig Fuller served four years in the White House as assistant to President Reagan for Cabinet Affairs, followed by four years as chief of staff to Vice President George H.W. Bush. Having been engaged in five presidential campaigns and run public affairs firms and associations in Washington, D.C., he now resides on the Eastern Shore with his wife Karen.

In God We Trust by Al Sikes

Mostly I avoid reading columns, which makes me especially appreciative of the feedback I receive from my scribbling. Yet, there was a time when I was an avid reader of political commentary; now, most pundits wear team jerseys and are predictable.

David Brooks is one columnist I continue to read. When he was first with the New York Times he was thought of as their symbolic conservative writer. Yet, several years ago when I would send a link to a Brooks’ column to certain Republican friends they treated me like a heretic. They wanted a cheerleader, not a thoughtful person trying to make some sense of the world.

Continuing with my heresy, I invite you to read a recent Brook’s column which I believe reveals persistent and troubling truths.

I served in both the Reagan and GHW Bush administrations and not infrequently found myself among true believers to whom capitalism, regardless of how practiced, was right and true. Their church was the corporation and hyper-profit seeking was a righteous act if it inured to the monetary benefit of the sole legitimate claimant—the shareholder. Morality, in their view, was either maximizing short-term stock value or best left to the confessional.

While Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), I became a not infrequent target of an entertainment industry that argued that any FCC influence on content was wrong. Attacks reached their loudest when I commented negatively on Fox’s “Married With Children” and took actions against Howard Stern’s morning radio show. If you are unfamiliar with those shows, Google will quickly lead you to critiques.

A hands-off stance was supported by “hard market conservatives” on the right and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) on the left. The ACLU took an absolutist view of the protection of “free speech”—speech was their flag regardless of its content.

Program content alone, almost regardless of how degrading, will not alter civilization nor will a hyper-concentration on profit. But, both are telling and damaging symptoms of the collapse of societal norms—norms that said “don’t go there.”

Norms must have reciprocal power; business leaders must honor an invisible line or the outliers will prey on the acceptable and norms will change. I don’t know when the perverse, maximize profit at all cost tipping point was reached, but reached it was. Maximizing profits, regardless of societal costs, in too many industries became the price exacted to be among the most competitive enterprises. Indeed, for most business leaders societal cost calculators were preempted by rate-of-return calculators.

In the past I have written about enduring truths. In my view it is those truths that provide civilization’s ballast. If there are no eternal truths—well, you can finish the sentence.

Eternal truths overcame economic advantage and political inertia to rid America of the heinous practice of enslaving people for economic exploitation. While there were many religious figures that contorted scriptures to apologize for slavery, the Quakers, in particular, were animated by the divine truth; it overwhelmed hypocrisies from the pulpit.

As the civil war was winding down the United States government added to our currency the phrase, “In God We Trust.” Today, as images of opulence flit through the minds of those in charge, too often their deity is the currency.

In a diverse country, religious and scriptural differences are organic. Yet, for over 200 years in America we have woven a beautiful fabric from common threads—threads informed by sacred texts and estimable philosophers.

When everybody’s sense of truth becomes truth, nothing will endure. An absence of truth is fertile soil for the predator and autocrat and they don’t care about truth.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books. 

 

Under African Skies by Angela Rieck

I have been mesmerized by the deepest cerulean blue of oxygen-starved icebergs on the Antarctic Circle. I have absorbed the mysticism and spirituality emanating from the temples of Angor Wat. I have been transformed by the serenity of the Buddha in Thailand. I have marveled at the beauty of the Sydney Opera House and Botanical Gardens. I have seen the treasures of America’s cities and America’s national parks; and been entranced by the history of Europe and Rome. Yes, I have been very, very fortunate to have traveled all over the world. From each trip, I returned satisfied and enriched by the experience–but there is one place that calls me back…Africa.

My daughter and I went South Africa last fall. And I must confess that while I am an adventurous traveler, I require comfort. Once I hit my 20’s, tents became an uncomfortable memory. So we chose to stay in places that had individual guest bungalows. Cape Town was lovely, but it wasn’t until we went into Kruger National Park that our world changed.

Our park experience began before dawn, when we blindly put on as many winter clothes as we could (it was in the 50’s) and jumped into an open-air Range Rover accompanied by our driver (an experienced ranger) and a tracker sitting in a jump seat in the front of the vehicle. We began each safari feeling the cold, dry, expansive air and experiencing the African sunrise, silently marveling at the large red sphere climbing over the horizon to welcome us to our homeland. The air is large, the fragrance both complex and indescribable. I asked one of our guides which bush was the source of the scent, but he looked at me puzzled, these are African skies.

We were jostled and bumped to see our quarry, one of the big five (cape buffalo, lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant) or our favorites, the giraffes and zebras. We were under strict orders to remain in our vehicle while we watched the animals that warily allowed us into their world. It took all of my willpower not to try to touch them, we were so close. Part of the excitement was the danger, but mostly it was being able to watch the richness of a natural life. We stayed out for 3 hours, and then returned at dusk to experience the red African sunset and spend another 3 hours observing the night show. Most animals emerge at night—the prey under the cover of darkness, the predators using their other senses to conquer their victims. Even the hippopotamuses emerge from their river sanctuary.

We felt at home under these African skies, where our ancestors had trekked over these lands. At night, we dined on food roasted on an open fire in the BOMA, a communal outdoor eating area.

One particularly cold night, the fire was smoking so badly that my asthma kicked in and I had to return to my bungalow to get my inhaler. Since the bungalows were within the park, policy dictated that I had to be accompanied by a ranger to protect me from unexpected encounters with wild predators. However, I had grown weary of this requirement. Our rangers worked on African time and it could take as long as 20 minutes to find an escort. So I started to sneak out on my own, only to be discovered by a very handsome, tall 30-something ranger who insisted on accompanying me. Thirty feet in front of our bungalow, he grabbed me around my waist and moved me to the side. A 30’s version of me would assume that he was putting a move on me, but now in my 60’s I knew better.

“Stop,” he whispered and pointed his flashlight to a crouched leopard glowering at us from 4 feet away. “She is not the one I am worried about, I can’t see her mate,” he commented as he slowly pulled a large knife out of his back pocket.

Our rangers have been trained to slit the throat of an attacking lion or leopard; and are able to kill a charging rhino or elephant with a single shot; so despite my heightened senses, I was not afraid.

“What do I do?” I whispered, exhilarated and grateful that I had allowed him to escort me.

“We remain still until she stops staring at us. That will be the sign that she is no longer interested in us.”

So we waited in frozen silence, my asthma attack vanquished by the adrenaline now flowing inside me. Then at his silent signal, we slowly and calmly walked to my bungalow.

That night I heard the loud, anguished growls of mating leopards. Like the African sky, this growl must be experienced; an unnatural, intense guttural moan. Their cries surrounded and vibrated through my bungalow. I learned later that this pair was using my bungalow grounds as their “love nest”. The female had chosen a new mate, cheating on the dominant male with his virile son. As we have discovered in the human kingdom, this handsome younger guy turned out to be a disappointment. A female leopard, driven by a need to reproduce, mates every two hours, while this particular male was quite content with his single conquest. All night they growled at each other in mutual frustration—he wanting to be left alone and she, singular in her pursuit.

Ignoring caution, I instinctively opened the windows and went outside to replace the heavy wooden doors with screens, oblivious to the cool air and the danger from two angry leopards. I needed to be a part of that African night. I needed to absorb those strangely familiar sounds that had been encoded in my DNA.

Angela Rieck was born and raised on a farm in Caroline County. After receiving her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland, she worked as a scientist at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey. Throughout her career, she held management jobs at AT&T, HP and Medco, finally retiring as a corporate executive for a large financial services company. Angela is also a wife, mother and an active volunteer serving on the Morris County School Board for 13 years and fostering and rehabilitating over 200 dogs. After the death of her husband, Dr. Rieck returned to the Eastern Shore to be with her siblings. With a daughter living and working in New York City, she and her dogs now split their time between Talbot County and Key West, FL.  

Out and About (Sort of): Look to Annapolis by Howard Freedlander

About this time every year, I suggest that readers pay attention to the deliberations of the annual 90-day session of the Maryland General Assembly. It may not be as dramatic and absurd as the goings-on of the U.S. Congress and our deeply flawed White House occupant—but, nonetheless, its impact is easily felt from Oakland in Western Maryland to Crisfield on the Lower Eastern Shore.

I must admit that state government may be the last refuge for consistently significant legislative initiatives that often draw bipartisan agreement and even a degree of comity among state senators and delegates who are as diverse as Maryland, with its urban and rural enclaves and varied political viewpoints. So, pay heed to the state’s 439th General Assembly, now nearly a week-old.

Before I offer my take on the critical issues facing our 188 legislators, which includes 60 new members, I must express my prayers to Sen. Mike Miller, an Annapolis legend who has served more than three decades as president of the Maryland State Senate. Diagnosed with an advanced form of prostate cancer, Miller, a wily master of the legislative process and political cunning, will continue to preside over the 47-person State Senate while undergoing chemotherapy treatment.

As a prostate cancer survivor, I have some inkling of Miller’s fraught medical prospects. Because his cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland, the gentleman from Southern Maryland lacks the option for surgery or radiation, the normal choices for those of us whose prostate cancer had not metastasized. As he said last week, Miller will be in good hands at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore.

Many of us on the Eastern Shore with serious diagnoses of many types feel fortunate that one of the greatest hospitals in the world is roughly 90 minutes away. It is an invaluable safety net.

To keep this week’s column to a manageable length, I will focus on two issues that particularly interest me, If the spirit moves me, I may seek readers’ tolerance and write a follow-up next week.

Republican Governor Larry Hogan will try to persuade the Democratic General Assembly to debate how to draw up Maryland’s congressional districts in a fair way. Our state’s gerrymandered districts are a farce.

Democrats are awaiting a decision by the U.S, Supreme Court to uphold or negate a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals that the boundaries drawn for the 6th Congressional District are unconstitutional.

Hogan has recommended the creation of a nonpartisan commission that would oversee redistricting, beginning after the 2020 Census. I think the idea is a good and necessary one

I feel particularly strongly after the recent election in our 1st Congressional District here on the Shore and parts of Baltimore and Harford counties. I watched with dismay as Jesse Colvin, a Democrat, waged an energetic campaign against incumbent Representative Andy Harris, a Republican who has held the office since 2010—when the district was drawn to create a safe seat for a Republican while redesigning the 6th District in Western Maryland to make it more favorable for a Democrat.

Despite an all-out effort by Colvin, a first-time candidate who brought Republicans and Independents into his camp (not enough) and raised more money than Harris, he lost by 22 percentage points. Harris has a hold on the 1st District. As he said, he didn’t create a district favorable to him or any other conservative Republican; the Democrats did.

When a district is gerrymandered, no longer fairly representing voters at both ends of the political scale, democracy suffers. In the 1st Congressional District, for example, Democratic voters feel they are unrepresented by Andy Harris, who needs only to cater the needs of those who gave him a commanding victory. That is not to say that Harris would not help a Democratic constituent with personal concern, i.e. a passport or Social Security claim. The perception is that he feels no need to seek goodwill from Democrats.

Let’s take this one step further. Call it realpolitik. When Rep. Harris considers a congressional bill or regulatory action, he need not adopt a centrist position that would satisfy both Republicans and Democrats. He can vote with the ultra-conservative wing of his party, because he fears no retribution. Not when you win an election by double-digit percentage points.

Political observers of both stripes bemoan gerrymandering. They believe, as I do, that Congress is stuck in an uncompromising quagmire because senators and representatives represent extremes. The middle is increasingly unpopulated. Ignoring for the moment that members of Congress ideally represent the country’s interest, I realize that political science, as many of us studied in college, is based mostly in fantasyland.

Re-election is the primary goal. Maybe once in awhile the greater good becomes the primary objective, but not often.

I said nine paragraphs ago I would write about two subjects. As you can see, gerrymandering and its nefarious implications drew my passionate attention.  I will write next week about the minimum wage, which the General Assembling is considering raising from $10.10 to $15 an hour. An economist friend has provided me a reasoned analysis. I just need more time to digest it.

I hope that the General Assembly will think beyond parochial concerns and determine that a nonpartisan commission for the redistricting of congressional district makes sense for all voters. Currently, 21 states have some form of a non-partisan or bipartisan redistricting commission.

Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland.  Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He  also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer.  In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.

 

Keep Your Pants On by George Merrill

‘Keep your pants on’ we’re exhorted when we become frantic, impatient and agitated. We’re urged to be cool, stay easy with things. The phrase, in addition to being a metaphor, can now be understood literally. An epidemic has been identified among post-modern men; we see droopy drawers everywhere.

It’s shortly after Christmas and near New Year’s Eve. In those weeks, I’ve eaten more than my share and I Know it. When I overeat, it alarms me. Various parts of my body redistribute themselves. In a word, I add volume while changing shape.

There was a time when all that was required of me to see the tips of my shoes was to cast my glance downward. I can do that, but it’s not my shoes I see, anymore. The space between where my eyes are set and my shoes are planted, a terrain once occupied by a firm torso, has been replaced with a more viscous substance I can only call fat. What had once been concave, is now convex. In order to see my shoes, today, I must bend forward some. My pants that historically belted navel high, given my evolving body shape, must now be buckled well below the navel in order to remain up. In the body, matter is neither created nor destroyed, just increased and moved around.

What offends me about my body’s redistribution of its mass is that I must secure my pants with a belt well below my navel, leaving to my shame, an unsightly mass draping over the belt for which no amount of gerrymandering (or sucking up) is able to alter. My roll of fat is visible to all and my drawers appear perilously close to dropping.

I’ve recently had some workers doing carpentry around the house. These are fit young men, at the top of their game, with lean bodies as straight as ramrods. I notice, however, when any one of them has to bend over, it reveals the upper portion of his butt. This phenomenon is common enough to have earned a diagnostic designation: “builder’s butt.” This describes graphically what happens to a man when his pants sit too low at his hips. Bending over to hammer nails or working on a pipe under a sink, his trousers decidedly fail him. His pants reveal the upper regions of those lower ones that pants were once engineered to conceal.

The corpulent old men of my youth, my grandfather and my great uncle, had significant paunches. I remember distinctly my great uncle’s silver belt buckle sitting prominently across the widest circumference of his girth. I thought it was neat. I recall both men’s large middles fondly, as if this was the distinguishing mark of age and wisdom. I don’t recall seeing an offensive overhang, which is the objection I have to my own paunch. Theirs, as I recall, would make mine look like an anthill. I wonder just how were they were able to wear pants buckled high along the upper waist, leaving no trace of an overhang? I would add that neither of them wore suspenders.

It seems to me that straight lean bodies should allow the belt securing one’s pants to ride just about anywhere up or down the torso. But today, even with young bodies, men’s pants rest precariously below the hip. I have concluded this happens not by the physical vicissitudes of aging men, but by a calculated decision of fashion designers.

I realized this while at the voting booth in Easton. While waiting my turn, I was dreamily people-watching. My glance fell on a tall man around my age. He was thin, rangy and well built. What seemed odd was how low his trousers were riding on his hips. Obviously, this did not result from the inability of his torso to accommodate a belt-tightening just about anywhere he chose to secure it. I can only conclude that fashion designers are flooding the market with slacks tailored to make men appear as if their drawers are dropping.

I can’t imagine why. I see no aesthetic advantages to such a design nor even a hint of erotic allure -which dominates most all products of fashion – except maybe handkerchiefs. To say the least, a man with droopy drawers does not present as someone dignified, a desirable sex object, or as someone having any idea of how to meet the public. He is definitely not cool.

Answers to this strange phenomenon may be found in today’s psycho-social climate. The unstable climate seems to be driving all kinds of aberrations. Truth telling has become a lost art today and we’re hesitant to believe anything we hear or see. The transparency we once valued in our relationships to one another has grown opaque with the incessant allegations of “fake.”

Transparency and openness with one another was once considered a social necessity, even a virtue. I wonder whether, while men’s pants don’t reveal all, they reveal just enough to satisfy us that a man is trustworthy; his pants present him as the kind of guy discreet and tasteful enough not to let everything hang out, but sufficiently transparent to assure us he is not hiding anything.

A bit of a stretch perhaps but there you have it. Nothing else I can think of explains it.

Columnist George Merrill is an Episcopal Church priest and pastoral psychotherapist.  A writer and photographer, he’s authored two books on spirituality: Reflections: Psychological and Spiritual Images of the Heart and The Bay of the Mother of God: A Yankee Discovers the Chesapeake Bay. He is a native New Yorker, previously directing counseling services in Hartford, Connecticut, and in Baltimore. George’s essays, some award winning, have appeared in regional magazines and are broadcast twice monthly on Delmarva Public Radio.

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In the Name of Beauty by Al Sikes

Several different phenomena are used to explain delightful winter temperatures. All I know for certain is that this winter has featured some wonderful opportunities for hiking or biking or just walking along our beautiful pathways.

But, there is a very unfortunate blemish, litter. Bottles, cans, fast food containers, discarded household goods—the list seems endless. Litter is a fact of life. Living with it shouldn’t be.

Warnings and fines and admonitions seem to make little difference. Talbot County law, for example, states: “It shall be the duty of every person as owner, occupant, lessee or agent in charge of land lying within the unincorporated areas of the County, …………, not to allow litter to be deposited or to accumulate, either temporarily or permanently, on such lands…………….” And we have all seen those signs that promise $1,000 fines for anybody caught littering. If law enforcement regularly penalizes either litterers or those that allow it to accumulate on their rights-of-way I am unaware of it.

Recently I became aware of actions in a county not too far from ours. Harford County has an active local program including Adopt-a-Road. Its web site claims that the Adopt-a-Road initiative has accomplished the following: “Total Signed Contracts: 145; Road Miles Serviced: 800; Pounds of Solid Waste Collected: 72,575; Pounds of Recyclables Collected: 18,600 pounds.” There is a State program called Adopt-a-Highway that includes Talbot and Kent counties (a few signs are evident) but when I asked about local government involvement in Talbot I was told there was none.

Many of us have been involved in pickup litter efforts. I am always amazed at how much is picked up and how quickly litter begins to show up along those same rights-of-way. Can you imagine our museums with their exhibits of the images we value allowing litter to despoil the galleries?

And I am convinced litter begets litter. Threatening signs don’t seem to curb littering—what about clear evidence that our neighbors value the natural beauty that has drawn many of us to the Eastern Shore. I think it would have persuasive effect.

As 2019 begins and a new county council and commissioners take office in Kent and Talbot County, please add an active litter program to the priorities. I feel confident that a mix of public and private initiative can allow natural beauty the showcase it has chosen.

Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al recently published Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.